Baltimore: Or, the Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire

( 14 )

Overview

From celebrated comic artist Mike Mignola and award-winning novelist Christopher Golden comes a work of gothic storytelling like no other. Reminiscent of the illustrated tales of old, here is a lyrical, atmospheric novel of the paranormal—and a chilling allegory for the nature of war.

“Why do dead men rise up to torment the living?” Captain Henry Baltimore asks the malevolent winged creature. The vampire shakes its head. “It was you called us. All of you, with your war. The roar...

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Baltimore: Or, the Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire

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Overview

From celebrated comic artist Mike Mignola and award-winning novelist Christopher Golden comes a work of gothic storytelling like no other. Reminiscent of the illustrated tales of old, here is a lyrical, atmospheric novel of the paranormal—and a chilling allegory for the nature of war.

“Why do dead men rise up to torment the living?” Captain Henry Baltimore asks the malevolent winged creature. The vampire shakes its head. “It was you called us. All of you, with your war. The roar of your cannons shook us from our quiet graves…. You killers. You berserkers…. You will never be rid of us now.”

When Lord Henry Baltimore awakens the wrath of a vampire on the hellish battlefields of World War I, the world is forever changed. For a virulent plague has been unleashed—a plague that even death cannot end.

Now the lone soldier in an eternal struggle against darkness, Baltimore summons three old friends to a lonely inn—men whose travels and fantastical experiences incline them to fully believe in the evil that is devouring the soul of mankind.

As the men await their old friend, they share their tales of terror and misadventure, and contemplate what part they will play in Baltimore’s timeless battle. Before the night is through, they will learn what is required to banish the plague—and the creature who named Baltimore his nemesis—once and for all.

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  • Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden
    Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden  

Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
"Why do dead men rise up to torment the living?" Captain Henry Baltimore asks the malevolent winged creature. The vampire shakes its head. "It was you called us. All of you, with your war. The roar of your cannons shook us from our quiet graves.... You killers. You berserkers.... You will never be rid of us now." On a war-torn, blood spattered WWI battlefield, a british aristocrat encounters a ravenous vampire. Thus begins a Dracula-like dance through history, rendered here in gripping prose and 150 stark black-and-white drawings.
From the Publisher
“Final word: Mignola's stark black-and-white illustrations are an excellent complement to Golden's words in that rarest of supernatural novels: an original vampire tale.”—Rocky Mountain News

"Baltimore is an old time rootin' tootin' sense of wonder story dragged through a modern blender, then slow baked in hell. I loved it. It was velvet bullet—speedy and rich in sensation. Go boys, go."—Joe R. Lansdale

“With Baltimore, Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden lay siege to the reader's imagination with a grim battalion of gothic images and a thunderous barrage of narrative artillery. This is not a novel: it's a war machine. Surrender immediately.”—Joe Hill, author of Heart-Shapped Box

"I have admired Mike Mignola both as an artist and as a tremendous story teller pretty much since his career began. In this collaboration with Christopher Golden, it’s fair to say he surpasses himself. He and Golden have produced a witty classic of supernatural fiction.”—Michael Moorcock, bestselling author of The Elric Saga

“Co-authors Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden brilliantly cross the evocative dread of early supernatural writers Algernon Blackwood and Ambrose Bierce with the inventive, in-your-face horror of contemporary counterparts Stephen King and Bentley Little.”–Omaha World Herald

“A haunting allegory on the nature of war.... Stark monochromatic illustrations from Mignola enhance this dramatic tale of war and fear.”—Publishers Weekly

“Outstanding.... Mike Mignola's outstanding black-and-white illustrations turn the book into a beautiful object and add to its overall storybook quality. He and Golden have outdone themselves with Baltimore, a gorgeous, haunting tale that may well become a classic.”—Fangoria

Publishers Weekly

Mignola (HellBoy) and Golden (The Myth Hunters) create a haunting allegory on the nature of war, fusing the poignancy of Hans Christian Anderson's "The Steadfast Tin Soldier," the supernatural chills of Draculaand the horrors of WWI and the subsequent influenza epidemic. Years after Capt. (and Lord) Henry Baltimore is infected by a demonic vampire bat while wounded near the Ardennes forest, he summons three friends to a mysterious meeting. Demetrius Aischros is the merchant sea captain who had taken Baltimore home to Trevelyan Isle, where they found Baltimore's family dead and his wife resurrected as a vampire. Thomas Childress Jr. is a nobleman and deserter who learns about the vampire infestation from Baltimore, his childhood friend. Dr. Lemuel Rose is the surgeon who treated Baltimore's war injuries. Together they help Baltimore face a final showdown with the terrible Red King. Stark monochrome illustrations from Mignola enhance this dramatic tale of war and fear. (Sept.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553804713
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/28/2007
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 384,113
  • Product dimensions: 7.73 (w) x 9.54 (h) x 1.06 (d)

Meet the Author

Mike Mignola is best known as the award-winning creator/writer/artist of Hellboy, although he began working as a professional cartoonist in the early 1980s, drawing “a little bit of everything for just about everybody.” He was also a production designer on the Disney film Atlantis: The Lost Empire and visual consultant to Guillermo del Toro on both Blade 2 and the film version of Hellboy. Mignola lives in southern California with his wife, daughter, and cat.

Christopher Golden is the award-winning, Los Angeles Times bestselling author of such novels as The Myth Hunters, Wildwood Road, The Boys Are Back in Town, Ferryman, Strangewood, and the Body of Evidence series of teen thrillers. He was born and raised in Massachusetts, where he still lives with his family. There are more than eight million copies of his books in print.

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Read an Excerpt

PRELUDE:

REQUIEM

“There were once five and twenty tin soldiers,
all brothers, for they were the offspring of the same old tin spoon.”

–The Steadfast Tin Soldier by Hans Christian Andersen

On a cold autumn night, under a black sky leached of starlight and absent the moon, Captain Henry Baltimore clutches his rifle and stares across the dark abyss of the battlefield, and knows in his heart that these are the torture fields of Hell, and damnation awaits mere steps ahead.

On one knee he pauses, listening, but the only sound comes from the chill autumn wind that carries with it the stink of death and decay. Baltimore gestures to the men picking their way through the darkness behind him, then moves in a crouch toward a small rise that could be a mound of war-torn earth...or a hill of corpses.

He falls to one knee behind the mound, which is indeed an innocent pile of dirt, excavated in the process of digging a trench. But Baltimore feels no relief at the discovery, save that the small mound provides better cover than corpses would have. Bullets pass through putrefying flesh far easier than through hard earth.

In the thick of the night, only a madman would attempt to cross the ravaged No Man’s Land that separates his battalion from the Hessians. The blasted tundra is furrowed with dank, muddy trenches and strewn with the bodies of the dead. Bales of barbed wire are stretched in winding serpents across the field.

Yet madmen they are. The battalion commander has determined that someone must traverse that damned earth in the dark and bring the fight to the enemy. Desperation demands it. Without some twist of fate–brought by gods or men–the dawn will find them in circumstances most dire.

The mission has gone to Captain Baltimore.

He has led his platoon away from the safety of the battalion camp, out of the forest that now seems so far behind them, and fifty yards into No Man's Land. Ahead lies at least four times that distance before they will reach any decent cover. The Hessians are camped in thick woods on the other side of the battlefield.

Baltimore knows that he stands at the very edge of the world. How else to explain the dread that slithers in the hollow of his chest and wraps itself around his soul? He must be on the threshold of Hell, for he can conceive of no patch of ground that could be farther from home and family and comfort. Yet this is the nature of war. To become a soldier, to spill blood and evict human souls in the name of faith or country, means traveling so far from home that home becomes as distant and cherished a memory as innocence.

He yearns for them both, even as he realizes at last–only now, only here–that they are lost to him forever.

As a boy he had kept to his room on rainy days and played with his tin soldiers, had cast them as enemies and caused them to kill one another on the battlefield of his blanket. But tin soldiers do not bleed. They go back in the box and live to fight another day.

Soldiers of flesh and blood also end up in a box, but theirs is of heavy pine. Baltimore has seen far too many soldiers bleed, and go into that wooden box in pieces. Dread flows in his veins now, making it difficult for him to move. Death waits for him on that ravaged ground and he has no wish to meet it. His bones ache with a chill that is more from terror and sadness than the November air, and he can scarcely breathe.

He raises a hand and signals his men, first to the left and then to the right. In two lines they hurry forward, flanking his position on both sides. Their motion is barely a whisper to disturb the darkness, yet to him they seem far too loud. As they come nearer he can hear the soft tread of boots upon hard earth and the chest-deep grunts of grim men tired of killing.

They take shape in the darkness, figures topped with the flat plate helmets of the allied forces, carrying rifles at the ready. Nearest him is Sergeant Tomlin, whose rifle lies cradled in his arms like a newborn.

The night sky is hung low with billowing clouds. Only the barest hint of light filters through from the heavens. Tomlin’s eyes glint in the dark, and now that he is close, Baltimore sees the urgency in the man’s features. His skin prickles with fear, and his chest aches with the pounding of his heart. Baltimore has never been a coward. Yet now he hesitates, in the worst place imaginable for such a pause.

With no other choice, he nods, raises his hand, and signals again.

Ebon shapes move out across the field. Baltimore and Sergeant Tomlin split up, go around the earthen mound, and even at that distance the sergeant exists as little more than a dark patch of moving shadow. Baltimore clutches his rifle so tightly that the grip pains him. His legs move seemingly of their own accord, carrying him across the torn-up earth. He nearly stumbles over a dead soldier, his body burnt so badly that it is impossible to tell whether he had been friend or foe. The dead man’s face has run like melted wax.

"My God," he whispers to the night.

Tomlin scurries left to meet up with his detachment and Baltimore tears himself away from the gaze of the dead man to join up with the detachment on the right. Soft grunts and the shush of canvas and cotton uniforms can be heard up the line where Tomlin’s group convenes, but the night has swallowed them.

In a crouch, Baltimore steals along the ruined ground, his men falling in around him. He lifts a hand, glances around for Norwich, the corporal with the wire-cutters, and finds the man right beside him, the twin handles of the tool jutting from his pack.

One by one they reach the barbed wire–a tangled, coiled mess as tall as a man. Baltimore drops to one knee. With a gesture, he signals to Corporal Norwich. The man hands his rifle to the private beside him and slides the wire-cutters from his pack. Swiftly, and as silently as possible, Norwich sets to work on the barbed wire. Farther up the line, Tomlin’s detachment will be doing the same.

Baltimore stands and peers at the wall of darkness on the far side of the battlefield. The trees nearest the open ground are stripes of shadow against the deeper black of the forest.

Norwich has progressed halfway through the six-foot mesh of barbed wire. Where he’s already cut, the wire has pulled back like the flesh around a wound.

The corporal snips a wire that whips back and lashes his cheek, tearing flesh. Norwich groans loudly, drops the wire-cutters, and claps a hand to his cheek, but he does not shout or curse. Baltimore races toward the break in the barbed wire. He signals to the private holding Norwich’s rifle and together the two men drag Norwich out of the breach by his legs.

The corporal’s eyes are wide with pain and a seething, oddly directionless anger. Blood paints black streaks on his cheek and jaw, seeping out from the hand he presses to his wound.

Baltimore gives Norwich a nod of approval for the effort he’s made to keep quiet. Then he gestures to the private who helped him pull Norwich out of the wire, a silent command for him to pick up the cutters and continue the job. The private hesitates a moment, as though hoping the order had been directed at some other soldier. Then, reluctantly, he crawls into the barbed wire and picks up the cutters.

A shadowy figure of grays and blacks moves nearer, emerging from the clutch of waiting soldiers. He doffs his flat plate helmet and Baltimore sees it is the medic, Stockton. The man reaches into a pouch strapped over his shoulder and pulls out a small kit. Quickly, as the skinny private snips wireafter wire, opening a path through the barbed coils, Stockton cleans Norwich’s wound and smears a coagulant paste over it. There is nothing more to be done. The placement of the gash makes a bandage troublesome in the field.

Stockton takes one last look at the wound but in the dark it is impossible to discern any real detail. The medic gives Captain Baltimore a thumbs up and moves in a crouch to join the other soldiers awaiting the order to move out. A black silhouette in Mercury’s helmet hands him his rifle.

The skinny private emerges from the wire, moving low. He’s finished the job Norwich had begun. They have a path now.

Grimacing, Norwich stands and takes the cutters back, slipping them into his pack. He and the private turn an expectant look upon their captain. Baltimore nods, and signals them forward. Private Macintosh takes point. Baltimore could not have mistaken the silhouette of that giant brute for any other. The captain falls in with his men, fifth in line as they step quickly through the gap in the tangle of barbed wire.

Once they are through, they spread out, making a line along the inside of the wire. Baltimore surveys the pitted and scarred field of battle ahead. The wind kicks up. He shivers as the chill cuts through his uniform, slicing to the bone.

Less than ten feet ahead lies a trench that gapes like a wound slashed in the world. The blackness in that pit makes the night seem bright in comparison. To his left, Tomlin’s detachment will have made it through by now and spread out so that the platoon is all together. They will be awaiting his order, as if there is any other possible choice but forward–down into the trench and up the other side.

Baltimore raises his hand to signal the advance.

In quick succession, three soft pops puncture the night, followed by a strange whistling that ends when a trio of flares explode into brightness above the battlefield, casting the entirety of the scene in a garish white light, such that every corpse and trench and divot in the earth stands out in perfect detail.

The platoon is strung along the line of earth between barbed wire and trench, completely exposed.

Dread and fear turn to rigid ice in his veins and Baltimore freezes, legs locked in place like one of his cherished tin soldiers, feet welded to its base. He has failed his country, and the men who follow him. His gaze follows the flares as they rise to the peak of their arcs and seem to hang for a moment like angels on high.

Ten or twenty feet to the right, one of his men curses. The voice sounds as though it comes from a thousand miles away. They might as well have been separated by such distances–all of them–for in the moment when death comes, each man is alone.

Awash in white light, Baltimore looks down even as the trench comes alive with movement. The Hessians who have lain in wait rise, rifle and machine gun barrels swinging up to take aim.

A tin soldier cannot move.

He stands at the ready, rifle in hand, but it will take the hand of the child to move him into action against his enemy. The battlefield is a heavy blanket striped two shades of blue, wrinkled and ridged with hills up which the platoon of tin soldiers must be made to charge.

The war hesitates. It breathes with a light spring breeze flitting through the room.

The boy has gone for now. Allies and enemies are frozen on the brink. The great force that moves them all has abandoned them in the midst of this scene and terror grips the tin soldier. Paralyzed, he can only wait for the battle to start again. Once the boy returns, his fate will be decided. Perhaps he will survive, perhaps not, but it is the unknown that gnaws at him.

The bedroom window is open a crack, letting that spring air swirl and eddy into the room. Sunlight marks out an elongated rectangle upon the floor, cut through with a quartet of windowpane crosses. The laughter of children carries in on the breeze. The boy is outside, playing with others, when on that blue-striped blanket, the fate of two tin armies hangs frozen in the balance.

If the boy would only come in, if Henry would play with them and bring his laughter into the room, the tin soldier knows that all would be well. With the boy in the room there is warmth and happiness. There is safety. But in this petrified moment, anything can happen.

Anything at all.

The tin soldier cannot move.

A new sound enters the room. Harsh, chuffing laughter. This is no childhood merriment. It comes not from the green spring day outside the window, but from a shelf high on the wall. From within a wooden box, whose sides are painted and etched with grinning jester faces. A crank handle juts from one side of the box, unmoving.

But inside the box, something stirs.

The goblin Jack shifts inside his wooden box and there comes a thump thump thump of its wooden head striking the walls. A tinkle of jangling, happy music blats three notes, but the crank does not move. The laughter comes again–a harsh, barking staccato, and the soldier knows there is something to fear more than losing his life, more than losing the war...

The gunfire punctures the air–a harsh, barking staccato. The platoon are black silhouettes cut out of a brilliant white background. The angel flares float languidly downward, drifting on the autumn breeze. They begin to flicker almost in rhythm with the machine gun fire, turning the slaughter of Baltimore’s men into a gruesome zoetrope–a Grand Guignol of shadows and light.

Cries of pain and death rise all around him. Baltimore turns to the left and sees Sergeant Tomlin and another man stagger backward in a marionette dance of bullets and flesh. They are driven into the barbed wire and thrash there, tearing their flesh with each new motion. Bleeding. Dying.

To the right, the skinny private stands straight as though at attention, the top of his skull missing and a hole where his nose should be. An entry wound. Already dead, he still clutches his rifle and marches three steps forwardbefore tumbling down into the trench with the Hessians who have murdered him.

The tin soldier cannot move.

Baltimore does not realize he has been shot until he feels hot blood sliding down his thigh and his left leg gives out. He does not even raise his rifle as he stumbles, attempting to hold himself up. The gun remains clutched in his hands, a useless bit of metal.

A fresh barrage of gunfire comes from the trench. And as he spins, falling, he sees the faces of the Hessian soldiers, dark with dirt for camouflage, loading their rifles and feeding ammunition into their heavy machine guns. As the flares begin to die, he sees the men of his platoon moving toward him, Stockton and the giant Macintosh forming around their captain. They return fire, but the ten rounds in the magazines of their rifles will not be enough.

Baltimore falls.

The tin soldier cannot see, but he can still hear the rasping, insinuating laughter of the thing in the carved box, the hideous Jack. The sound is like some terrible machine, a devil’s factory. He knows that up on its shelf, in the box, the Jack stirs still, amused and waiting for its chance to emerge.

What it will do then, the tin soldier does not know. But he dreads the moment he will hear the bright, jarring calliope of its handle being cranked, for then he will know the Jack is about to be freed.

For now, the laughter is horrid enough.

And then it ceases.

Time passes, though the soldier knows not how long. He feels the cold, unyielding press of his comrades all around him, tin arms and legs beneath him and pressing down from above.

They are back in their box, of course. The boy has gathered them up and packed them away until the mood strikes him for another war. To the boy, it is so simple, so innocent.

It is a comfort, being back in the box. Stifling, yes, for he is contorted in there, on his back with his legs jutting upward and all of those other tin men on top of him, rifles jabbed against him. But it is safe in the box. There are no enemies here. The two armies are one. Brothers of tin.

It is safe. Even pleasant.

Or it would be, were it not for the cold night and the pain radiating out from his lower thigh where the bullet has pierced him, and the stink of blood and rot.

It begins to rain.

In the box...to rain...

The cold rain rouses him. Frigid tears trickle across his face and Baltimore becomes aware of the rise and fall of his chest. He can breathe, which means he is not yet dead. The metallic stink of blood lingers in the air; the rain is unable to wash it away.

His eyelids flutter open and he shifts his gaze, trying to work out where he is and how he has gotten there. Other scents fill his nostrils now–the rich smell of damp earth, the thick odor of unwashed bodies. Pain throbs in his left leg, as though someone were jabbing a bayonet deep into his flesh.

Perhaps it is this, even more than the chill rain, that has woken him.

Baltimore finds it difficult to breathe. He lies at an angle such that his legs are elevated and his head hangs backward. His thoughts come slowly, as though he has drunk too much whiskey and woken up in the middle of the night, not quite sobered. His mind feels numb and muddled.

Why is it so difficult to breathe?

The darkness remains, so he has not been unconscious long enough for morning to arrive. Yet as he fights the disorientation that threatens to drag him down into oblivion again, Baltimore realizes that the darkness is not quite so complete as it had been. Dark shapes lie heavily upon him. Cold, damp, rough material touches his face. He lies on a series of small bumps and ridges that feel like a pile of stones.

Muddled as his brain is, the truth swims up in his thoughts and a breath of despair escapes his lips.

He is in a trench with the dead, clothing sodden with blood and icy rain. The stones beneath him are the jutting elbows and knees of the soldiers who followed him to their deaths. He shifts a bit, forcing his head up, and is rewarded with an explosion of pain in his injured leg. Now, though, he can see that the weight on his chest that has made it so hard to breathe has a face. In the gloom of the stormy night, he can see the gash on Corporal Norwich’s cheek. The dead man stares at him with still, tarnished eyes.

Pain stabs his leg again and he wonders at the extent of his injuries. Baltimore blinks and shifts himself, finding a grip on the dead around him. The effort makes his head spin and he pauses to let the feeling pass. He has lost a great deal of blood.

He fights the urge to call for help. There is no way to know if anyone still lives on the battlefield, but if so, it seems far more likely that they will be Hessians than allied soldiers. And what if some of his own battalion do hear him? If they send someone out to attempt to retrieve him, the Hessians will cut them down as well.

Images of his men being slaughtered flicker through his mind, and the guilt weighs so much that it threatens to push him deeper into that hole. He had been frozen, unable to help.

Not that it would have mattered. One more gun would not have saved them, these men whose blood soaks the ground. Now he wishes he could have remained frozen, to avoid the pain and the cutting truth of his failure.

Cold. Baltimore is so very cold. A sleepy numbness comes over him. Silence is better. Safer. He has lost too much blood already, he is sure. Death will not be far off.

Yet he does not want to die in the trench.

Steadying his breathing, trying to clear his mind, Baltimore pushes upward, braced against the dead on either side. His uniform crackles with dried blood. Pain shoots through his leg and he lists to one side. His head rests against the back of a dead soldier.

Again he catches his breath. He has to force his eyes to stay open. His mouth feels dry and he can feel the pull of unconsciousness, but he slides his left arm up between two corpses, one of them the scarred Norwich, and shoves the dead corporal aside.

He can see the sky.

Freezing rain spatters his face and helps to keep him conscious. Fresh air fills his lungs, cold and bracing. Clouds still lie heavily across the night sky but there are breaks through which he can see dim stars, and to the east the horizon has begun to lighten.

If only he can free himself of this tangle of dead men, he will lie peacefully upon the ruined earth. If he remains still, perhaps the pain will not be so bad, and he can let his eyes close, let himself go into that eternal sleep.

He wonders if he will live long enough to see the sunrise, and hopes that he will.

The dead seem to close around him, as though they do not want to release him. A frantic pulse races through him and Baltimore moves. He draws his good leg under him, braces himself again on the dead, and drives upward. Pain drags a scream up his throat but he keeps his teeth clamped tightly and it emerges as a groan. He cannot feel his left leg below the knee, but at the back of his thigh he feels a trickle of warm, fresh blood, and it troubles him.

His hands scramble for purchase. He pushes himself up through legs and arms, body shaking with the effort. His thoughts blur again but Baltimore remains conscious enough to avoid looking at the faces of the dead. The more he touches them, the more he feels their ghosts around him. Accusing specters seem to float just at the edges of his vision.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers.

The pain in his leg is like a hammer to the bone, crushing him as he grips the walls of the trench and, with his good leg, uses the mountain of corpses to climb out. He emerges from the trench on a ladder of his own dead soldiers.

He tries to blink away the pain that blinds him, thinking at first it is the rain that blurs his vision. Then black oblivion sweeps him down into its embrace...

... and again the cold rain awakens him.

For a moment he lies there, incapable of moving, and wonders if the Hessians have seen him emerge. He has heard neither shout nor whisper nor footfall, and so he gathers he has not been noticed...or he truly is alone.

The wall of barbed wire looms to his left. Men of his platoon are tangled in the barbs, crucified there, splayed wide and punched through with bullet wounds. One of the men has had his throat cut, perhaps to end his misery, or simply to silence his dying cries.

With a deep breath Baltimore tries to turn over. Blackness swims around the corners of his eyes and when he opens them again the horizon has brightened slightly. Dawn grows nearer every time he drifts.

He lies back to watch the eastern horizon, waiting for the sun. Waiting to die.

Only...there are things in the sky.

He blinks again. His thoughts feel soft, swathed in cotton. The haze grows worse. His eyelids flutter but he tries to keep them open, watching the sky, wondering if the shapes there are mere hallucination or spots on his vision, but they remain. And they move. They fly.

Kites. They are kites, like the one he’d had as a boy, but with shorter tails.

The kites circle and drift and glide and soon they come lower, fluttering down over the battlefield...over the dead. The icy rain runs down his face and neck and fills the orbits of his eyes and he has to blink it away again. He feels oddly peaceful.

When he grows aware once more, Baltimore stares up at the sky. The storm clouds are still dark, but in the breaks between them the stars have faded almost entirely. The horizon has turned a rich, dark blue–the indigo that promises morning.

But not yet.

A flapping noise comes to him across the tormented field and abruptly he remembers the kites.

He lets his head loll to the right. Something moves and shifts in the trench. More than one thing. Black wings arch up, spattered by rain. There is the sound of slapping leather. Not birds, then.

Something other.

The pain seems mostly gone from his leg, along with all other feeling. The numbness there seems as though it is spreading. He doesn’t even feel cold anymore.

The noise again...he rolls his head to the left. One of the creatures perches on the coils of wire between two of the dead soldiers. Its tented wings seem too large for its body. It ducks its head toward one of the soldiers, its weight making it bob on the wire as its head darts toward the corpse, studying it more closely.

It seems like the strangest dream.

Baltimore sighs softly.

The creature flinches and turns to look directly at him. Its eyes gleam a hideous, luminescent crimson in the predawn gloom. The ears and snout remind him of a bat, but the creature is huge and terrible. Its slippery, red mouth is lined with long, silvery needles for teeth–all wet with blood.

They are eating the dead.

As Baltimore blinks again, forcing himself to remain conscious, he sees the creature dart its snout forward and tear a chunk of flesh from the throat of a private that all the men had called Topper. Baltimore has never known his real name. The creature yanks back and a strip of skin comes away with the gobbet of bloody meat. It cocks its head and chokes down its prize.

"My God," he whispers.

The creature flinches again and turns, the barbed wire swaying under its weight. It tilts its head and stares at him with a dreadful curiosity in its crimson eyes. The things in the trenches and elsewhere on the battlefield pay him no mind, enraptured by their feeding upon the carrion that had once been his platoon. But this is the nearest, and it has more than noticed him.

It hops down from the wire.

All the muddiness is swept away from his mind now. Baltimore trembles, his breath coming in hitching gasps. He manages to draw up his right leg but has not the strength to propel himself away. His face flushes with the heat of his terror and he stares down across his body and watches the thing crawling across the sodden, churned-up earth in a jerky, scrabbling walk, pulling itself toward him on folded wings.

If he screams, he will draw the attention of the others.

If this creature tears his throat out, it will not matter.

But if he can kill it...

His fingers flex as if with a mind of their own, wishing for a rifle. He could lay it across his chest to sight it, can practically feel himself pulling the trigger, the kick of the weapon as he fires. But he has no rifle.

The creature drags itself across the ground in that grotesque hobble, wings spreading. The rain strikes them, obscenely loud. Baltimore locks eyes with it, his breath coming shorter and faster. His right hand shakes so hard his fingertips drum the ground.

It creeps toward him, inches away from his left side, from his hip, and he feels suddenly sure that it moves so slowly to relish his fear. The creature lifts a clawed talon and reaches out.

It touches him.

Baltimore can hear the sounds of flesh being torn from the corpses in the trench and on the ground around him, can hear the rain hitting the ground, spattering their wings, but he can only stare into those poison eyes, lit by some unholy light.

It begins to crawl onto him, its wings almost caressing. Its claws are on him, its cold body draped across him, as intimate as a lover’s touch. Then it bares its picket-row of teeth and he sees the blood that stains its mouth, the bits of flesh caught on those needles. It inches upward, body pressing against his groin.

He meets its gaze and at last understands, staring into its eyes, that this is no animal, but a creature of malice, with a dreadful awareness.

Baltimore screams.

Wild, mad-eyed, he whips his head around in search of some weapon. At the edge of the trench, tumbled from the outstretched hand of a dead sol- dier, is a rifle, its bayonet gleaming with cold droplets of rain.

With the last reserve of his strength–perhaps the last bit of life remaining to him–he forces himself to lunge for the blade. The creature’s claws dig into his flesh, cut through his uniform, and it clings to him even as he snatches the bayonet from the end of that rifle. His wounded leg shifts, spilling fresh blood, but he has moved beyond pain now.

The creature hisses.

He thrusts out his left hand and grips its throat, would have plunged the bayonet into its chest had it not lunged at that very moment. Its jaws come at him, eyes on his throat, and he slashes the blade upward, slicing it from horrid mouth to snout to brow.

The creature falls away from him, flapping and writhing on the ground.

Screaming, as no animal could scream.

Then it rises, shaking in fury, blood streaming from the cut in its face. Its eyes no longer glow crimson. They are dull, soulless things–gray and flat as stones. Yet he can feel the hatred in the thing, and it sears him.

The hunger has gone from the devil. Only the fury remains, and the glitter of its sleeping intelligence, now awakened.

The creature wipes its talons across its wounded face and flicks droplets of its own blood out across the battlefield. A rictus grin pulls its slashed lips away from a row of narrow, sharp teeth and it comes at him then. It bends and clutches his wounded leg, lifts it, and Baltimore gasps, certain its jaws are about to tear into his flesh.

Instead, with a soft grunt, it breathes into the open wound above his knee. Its breath comes out in a mist, the same crimson that its eyes had been, with a stink worse than the dead and a moist, putrid heat.

Baltimore clutches the bayonet tightly, but feels the last of his strength leaving him. Blackness swims at the edges of his vision. But if he loses consciousness now, surely he is dead.

The creature throws back its wings and howls at the storm clouds as though appealing to some ancient, primal god.

The ground shifts beneath Baltimore. He feels it tremble as he stares at the carrion-eater. The creature turns to hiss at him, blood spilling from the gash in its face, soaking into the thirsty earth along with the rain.

The other creatures crawl across the ruin of the battlefield, converging upon Baltimore. One takes flight, circling above the rest.

He cannot scream. Fear shakes him, but he cannot muster the strength even to quake with it. His eyelids are heavy, his head lolling as he tries to fight the black oblivion that smothers his thoughts.

Too much pain. Too much blood lost. Death has come for him, and he will welcome its release.

The creature grins as it bends over him, droplets of its blood spattering his chest and face. Then it spreads its wings like a shroud and springs into the sky, flowing into the night, as black as shadow. Its wings flap with a languid elegance as it rises higher and higher.

In silence, the rest of its kind take flight as well, pursuing the first–their broad leather wings beating and thin tendril tails dragging behind. They wheel westward, disappearing into the gray-black clouds.

Moments later, the sun appears on the eastern horizon, casting a bright golden light upon the hellish landscape of war. It silhouettes the clouds with morning haloes, and limns the corpses, tangled in barbed wire and strewn along the ground.

Blackness fills his vision, blotting out the morning, and at last he succumbs to its embrace. Slipping into unconsciousness, Captain Baltimore feels like he is flying.

Numb, unmoving, once again the tin soldier, he lies upon the heap of his brothers and feels the welcome darkness swallow him at last.

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Sort by: Showing all of 14 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 11, 2012

    Excellent read

    Great gothic adventure read

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 12, 2008

    A good but flawed effort at recreating a Victorian horror tale

    I have enjoyed Mike Mignola's 'Hellboy' comics as much for their plots and dialogue (even when Mike teamed with John Byrne and his quirky first-person captioning which seemed so out of place in 'Seed of Destruction') as for Mignola's inspired layouts and use of shadows. One thing which I think most Mignola fans would agree on, however, is that Mike's writing is best in shorter stories than in longer story arcs. Perhaps this is because conciseness brings out the best in the author, or because he is constrained to wrap everything up quickly and ignore what would be tempting but confusing additions to the storyline. At any rate, 'Baltimore' reads, surprisingly, much like Jean Shepherd's 'In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash,' in that it seems to be a series of short stories of Victorian horror linked together by an overarching device of Lord Baltimore's feud with the vampiric clan. Along the lines of what another reviewer stated, this would be perfectly fine if the overarching device was more fleshed out, but the ending of this book seemed far too sudden and too forced, especially with the vampire nemesis' confession about his feelings on the feud. The very ending of the novel, I am sure, will leave even die-hard Mignola fans cold, as it came completely out of left field. Furthermore, I must admit to a little disappointment in the accompanying art, as many of Mike's drawings are little more than architectural pieces. I feel this is less an effort to leave much to the reader's imagination than it was wanting to provide mere window dressing to Christopher Golden's writing, which was, admittedly, very well drafted. If the former was the case, however, I think this was an ill-advised decision given the strength of Mignola's illustration skills. Overall, I did enjoy reading 'Baltimore,' and its strengths outweighed its flaws, but I would hope that Mike Mignola's next foray out of the world of 'Hellboy' or even 'The Amazing Screw-On Head' presents a superior package.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 6, 2007

    A Great Read

    I stumbled upon this book completely by accident, but as a reader of Hellboy comics from 10 years ago I knew it would be good. I couldn't wait to see what was going to happen next. Mignola and Golden did an excellent job,and the illustrations add a lot of moodiness and atmosphere. My only complaint is that the book is too short and ended too quickly, especially for $25. Hopefully there will be a sequel!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 12, 2007

    Worth reading

    The illustrations are stark and the imagery portrayed through the text is vivid. Mignola and Golden do an excellent job. However, the story does falter in some places, and the overall tale is cut strangely short -- but, of course, we can always hope for some kind of sequel. The strong points in the writing far outnumber the weak. Twenty-five dollars might be asking a bit much, but at $20 or less, the price is more than fair.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    a reviewer

    Baltimore Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden Bantam, Sept 2007, $25.00, 256 pp. ISBN: 9780553804713 During World War I Captain Henry Baltimore was ordered to cross No Man¿s Land in the Ardennes separating the Allies from the Hessians. The object was to kill the Hessians and take the land so that the stalemate would be broken. Instead, they went into a trap and everyone but Lord Baltimore is killed wounded in the leg, he sees a carrion eating Kites drinking the blood of his fallen comrades. He injures it. --- When he wakes up in the hospital, a human looking creature tells him because of what he has done there is war between the creatures and humanity. Plague spreads across the land, killing those it infects and they have not yet successfully stopped the diseases that spread with a gray skin and dark dead eyes of those that are still alive. When Henry arrives home, the plague has taken all those he loved and he vows to find and kill the creature. Years later Lord Baltimore calls three friends Dr. Lemuel Rose, Mr. Thomas Childress and Captain Demetrius Aischros, all who have dealt with the supernatural to an inn in the city. They don¿t know what the purpose of this gathering is but as night falls, the shadows close in. --- BALTIMORE is an interesting and exciting take on the vampire mythos. The curse threatens to wipe out humanity and Lord Baltimore is thrust into the position of protector of mankind. Readers get to know him through the reminiscences of his friends and their stories are equally fascinating in a macabre kind of way. There are 150 black and white ink drawings that allow the reader to see the story unfold. The storyline is enthralling and the drawings embellish this dark vivid graphic horror thriller. --- Harriet Klausner

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 15, 2007

    Definitely worth a read

    I recieved an advanced copy of this book and I have to say, I'm very impressed. It seems like this is going to be a series (from the way the book ended). The story has several supernatural tales told by different characters before the main story unfolds and each one is equally enthralling. Definitely worth a read for anyone interested in fantasy or things that go bump in the night!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 24, 2007

    Skip this book

    As a whole this was an okay book. The plot was good but it read as if it was a screen play. There was way too much narrative leaving you with no use of your imagination.

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    Posted March 20, 2009

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    Posted March 31, 2012

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    Posted January 21, 2014

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    Posted April 17, 2011

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